If everybody who disagreed with the Church about something in their lifetime stayed home, no one would ever be in church. There would be no Catholics. There might not even be any priests.
This is not to say the Church is wrong. It’s to say that we all experience emotional, psychological, ethical, moral, physical, you-name-it undulations throughout our lives. Our moods change. Our feelings change. Our lifestyles and interactions and personal experiences change. To cut yourself off from something wonderful, or to decide that an entire body of possibility is wrong based on fleeting thoughts, prejudices, and disagreements would be incredibly short-sighted.
Let me depart from my regularly scheduled sex-related posts to share this thoughtful quote from Matthew Kelly that perfectly dovetails this topic with the Theology of the Body book:
Catholic Digest: What advice would you give to a Catholic struggling with the Church today?
Matthew Kelly: Explore it. Most people don’t understand what it is. If there’s any issue that you massively disagree with, delve into that. There are answers there. Our personal biases and prejudices get in the way. Most of the time when we’re saying the Church is wrong, we’re just saying it’s inconvenient. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. (Catholic Digest Article)
Then, consider this:
“[When we ask for and receive grace from Christ,] we no longer need the law because we no longer desire to break it. What laws do you still need? What teachings of the Church feel like a burden or imposition to you? Perhaps the problem is not with the law or the Church, but with your own “hardness of heart.” Don’t throw away the law; surrender your disordered desires to Christ and let him transform them.” (Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body)
I say this to my 15-year-old self that saw the Church as a hive of hypocrites, my college-aged self that saw the Church as a senior citizen home of shame and boring-ness, and to my present day self who loves the Church but struggles to feel in communion with other people.
(I also struggle with feeling merciful, avoiding anger, and judging others, classic symptoms of trying to follow all of the rules without the help of Christ’s grace***).
I also say this to you if you disagree about same-sex unions, contraception, Mary, premarital sex, or anything else controversial. Take a minute and google the Catholic side of the story. Read a book (just one book!) explaining why the Church sides the way it does. Consider how your life might have set you up to disagree with the Church’s truth and and how Screwtape benefits from the world’s view of the matter now. Consider the Catholic perspective of how it could change your life if you tried out another way.
There’s a world of possibility there that ends with everything working “for your good.”
***Christopher West’s Introduction to Theology of the Body: “Trying to follow all of the rules without seeking Christ’s grace is futile. Those who do will either become self-righteous hypocrites or they will abandon God’s law for a rationalized, watered-down version of the Gospel.”
As a Catholic, this is probably a super weird opinion to have. And, honestly, maybe it’s a leftover from my days as a secular feminist and it’s something I need to work through still. But either way it’s something I’m here on this blog to untangle, lucky you!
Musings of a Michigan Man is a thoughtful blog that I’ve loved reading over the last few weeks. However, one of the themes that comes up a lot on his blog and in his posts (especially the comments of the one linked above) is about how the purpose of marriage is procreation. This is a really common sentiment in the Church and — it seems to me — particularly among men. And I have a problem with it.
Hear me out! I don’t have a problem with it being true (or with Michigan Man, a guy I’d love to call a friend) — it is true. The purpose of marriage is children. The purpose of sex is children. The greatest purpose Catholics have on the planet I think is, arguably, children. But approaching it like that from the start is a little disordered and can be a bit of a turnoff for Catholic women like myself.
Turn-Offs Aren’t Great for Babies
Here’s a true gem from Scott Hahn’s book about the mass, The Lamb’s Supper, that opened this can of worms in my heart:
The various forms of sacrifice [throughout the mass and throughout the gospel] include one positive similar meaning: life is surrendered in order to be transformed and shared.
For people who don’t have a serious issue with sperm like I do, this might not be a big deal of a statement. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that hearing this (on my audiobook as I walked) stopped me dead in my tracks. I rewinded. I listened again. I rewinded. I wrote it down.
This changes everything and, (if you’ll forgive me for using you as the scapegoat, Michigan Man) it explains why the typical Catholic phrasing about marriage, women, and babies turns me off so much.
“Girl Surrender” Doesn’t Have the Same Ring To It
Growing up in the 90s (and in my formative boyfriend-girlfriend relationship), feminist power plays were the lay of the land. My mom stayed home to raise 4 kids while my dad was deployed, literally giving over her body and mind for the good of her family for years. When she looked to me, her only girl, and reflected on a lifetime of sacrifice, her motto about relationships was more like “Don’t get married!” or “Do everything you want to do in life before you get married!” because of her experience.
In my formative girlfriend-boyfriend relationships, my boyfriend wanted things from me (namely sex) and it was up to me to make the play and keep the guy by fulfilling your side of the bargain (which at the time I was very consensual about fulfilling). The more he wanted me (the more thin, more sexy, more girlfriend-like I was), the more “powerful” I was in that relationship (supposedly).
Later, when the effects of relationships like this began to dawn on me, being distant, using sex as a tool, and controlling or suppressing my feelings was the “power play.” I got really good at it, hence the blog title of Sarcastic Catholic.
Finally, we can pile on all the secular media, headlines, music, movies, and everyone else in my life who said sex was power and it’s time for women to use it. Specifically, “Girl Power!” and now “Girl’s Run the World!”
The result of these forces? A girl who is not about to surrender anything.
I became a perfect example of the modern feminist: highly educated, highly opinionated, unrestrained, and loud about it (after all, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” right?). I was anti-Catholic, pro-“spirituality and equality” and pretty much toted the party line on everything else.
I was trained to control every area of my life. I planned my education, my career, my dates, and my relationships. I was the one who said “yes,” and “no,” and I had all the power.
So when the moment came to have sex without contraception — to in every sense of the world surrender my body (for the pregnancy itself), my mind (to the pregnancy hormones and postpartum depression), and my future (my career and whatever else that would sideline as I was consumed by children) or even my life (with all those wonderful stories about mothers having near-death experiences or passing away during labor) — is it any surprise that this girl (who doesn’t give an inch in any area of her life) had a panic attack?
I’m Surrendering Now, With Caveats
Naming the problem — that’s the real power. And that’s what I’m doing week by week as I untangle these complicated emotions during EDMR counseling. I’m point-by-point identifying and replacing disordered experiences with the healing love my adult self, who has access to the Truth, Christ, grace, and everything else wonderful.
(And man-o-man can I say these sessions are working? I am nowhere near finished, but I can already see a big difference in my day to day ability to process emotions and in my sex life with my husband).
I’m learning to surrender now, and it’s really showing in my relationship with my husband. I still have caveats that I need to clear out in order to fully submit to God (and I still haven’t worked up to having sex “to completion” yet), but I am heartened by the progress I’ve made in just 5 or 6 weeks of working at this.
Still, at the end of the day, I completely understand why I and other women today don’t want to hear from a man of God that “marriages and women are meant for children,” even though it’s true.
What I want to hear — what resonates with my spirit, even if it’s semantics — is that “Our love will be so overflowing and mutually self-sacrificing that we will be transformed by having children together.”
Side note: We’ve even started replacing how we talk about sex around the house or in jokes or in TV shows with Truth-oriented language, which is so corny but really helps me differentiate between what my husband and I do and the lies that come from the world. For example, instead of “doing it” and “boning” it’s “mutual, self-sacrificing love,” and “making love,” etc.
Because it’s not as simple as “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” It’s “first comes love, then comes Christ’s love in your marriage, then comes mutual self-sacrifice and self-giving, then comes a baby.”
To leave that part out tells a story of power, not of surrender and transformation; a story where the man has the power and the burden falls on the woman, and that’s simply not true.
There’s so much more to this story, but that’s as far as I can dig into right now without composing a novella. I’d love to hear thoughts from women and men on this topic, because I know I’m not alone and I know there are some who disagree with me!